1.10.2007 | Von:
Christian Joppke

The Netherlands

Civic integration programmes in their current form originated in the Netherlands, in response to the shortcomings of the previous multicultural "minorities policy" [1] in integrating immigrants into key societal sectors, most notably the labor market.
Touristen lassen sich in traditioneller niederländischer Tracht fotografieren.Tourists have their picture taken wearing traditional Dutch costumes. (© picture alliance / ANP )

Also due to a preponderance of unskilled family and asylum migration, unemployment and welfare dependency were very high among immigrants in the Netherlands in the 1990s: immigrant unemployment was four times higher than the native Dutch rate, and close to half of all recipients of public assistance were non-Western immigrants [2] (which makes for an overrepresentation of about 500%, considering that 10% of the total population is made up of non-Western immigrants).

This is the socio-demographic context for the move from multiculturalism to a civic integration policy in the late 1990s. But an equally important factor was political. In 1994, the Christian Democratic Party (CDA) was voted out of government, for the first time in a century. The CDA had been the traditional supporter of the "pillarization" (verzuilung) system of integrating societal groups. Under this system, Catholics, Calvinists, liberals, socialists and – later – immigrants had their own "pillar", which encompassed many public structures (e.g. unions, media, and education) and which structured each group's involvement in political decision-making processes. The new governing party, Labour, traditionally less beholden to the pillarization system, immediately pushed for the furthering of migrants' participation in mainstream institutions (which later came to be refered to as "shared citizenship") and "autonomy", to be achieved through Dutch language acquisition and labor-market integration. Cornerstone of the new approach was the 1998 Newcomer Integration Law (Wet Inburgering Nieuwkomers, henceforth referred to as WIN). WIN obliged non-Western newcomers to participate in a twelve-month integration course, which consisted of 600 hours of Dutch language instruction, civic education, and preparation for the labor market.

When WIN was introduced in 1998 it was compulsory, but it was also heralded as an opportunity for migrants. There were financial penalties attached to non-compliance, but they were minor and hardly ever enforced by the responsible municipalities. Overall, this was a state-funded service with incontrovertibly positive intentions: to get migrants into work, to help them learn Dutch, and to make them functioning members of Dutch society.

However, the rightist turn in the political climate after the killing of populist politician Pim Fortuyn in 2002 pushed the coercive dimension of civic integration to the fore. This happened under a renewed CDA government (in office since 2002), which ended the eight-year Labour Party interregnum, and which exchanged its previous advocacy of pluralist verzuilung for a more nationalist stance. A May 2003 cabinet agreement promptly announced a restrictive revision of the civic integration law, one that would ensure that newcomers "be aware of Dutch values and keep to the country's norms".

The revised civic integration law, which came into force after much debate and conflict in 2006, has a number of restrictive features. Paradoxically, the Dutch state has simultaneously withdrawn from, and increased its presence in, the integration process. In terms of state withdrawal, the philosophy of "autonomy" and "self-sufficiency" (zelfredzaamheid) underlying civic integration is now extended to its actual provision, in that migrants are required to pay for the integration courses in full. In addition, the provision of integration courses has been contracted out to private organisations, and state involvement in the whole process reduced to the holding of standardised tests at the very end.

However, in a counterpoint to the privatisation of integration, state involvement has, in other respects, increased significantly. Not just newcomers but settled immigrants (so-called oudkomers) are now required to pass an integration test. This amounts to an enormous logistical operation on the part of the state, in order to identify, mobilise, and police the country's entire migrant population.

A crucial development has been the linking of the previously separate domains of migration control and immigrant integration, by tying the granting of permanent residency permits to the successful passing of an integration test. This has resulted in an entirely new view of immigrant integration. The prevailing view used to be that a secure legal status enhances integration; now a lack of integration is taken as grounds for the refusal of admission and residence. Accordingly, the entire integration domain is potentially subordinated to the exigencies of migration control.

The most powerful expression of this new linking of integration and immigration policies is the new policy of "integration from abroad". Applicants for family reunification are now required to take an integration test at a Dutch embassy abroad, as a prerequisite for being granted a temporary residence permit. As no state-sponsored Dutch education programs exist abroad, one must surmise that integration from abroad is really a tool of preventing "unwanted" immigration, because family migrants tend to be less skilled than other migrants and thus not seen as valuable additions to the Dutch economy and society. Tellingly, the number of family migrants has declined sharply in the year after the new scheme was introduced.

The negative focus on family immigrants has to be seen against the backdrop of certain marriage practices by Muslims, who constitute the overwhelming majority of family migrants in the Netherlands and elsewhere in Western Europe. Over 50% of second-generation immigrants of Turkish and Moroccan ethnicity in the Netherlands continue to look for marriage partners in their country of origin. Marriage migration thus reinforces and perpetuates across the generations the self-segregation that characterises the Muslim community at large. The rise of civic integration, in the Netherlands and elsewhere, is intrinsically connected to this sociodemographic context.


For further discussion of Dutch multiculturalism, see Michalowski, I. (2005): "http://What is the Dutch Integration Model, and Has it Failed?" focus Migration Policy Brief No. 1.
Dutch statistics differentiate between Western and non-Western immigrants. Western immigrants come from Europe (excluding Turkey), North America, Oceania, Indonesia and Japan. Non-Western immigrants come from Turkey, Africa, Latin American and the rest of Asia. A further distinction is made between first and second-generation immigrants. First-generation immigrants are persons who were born outside the Netherlands and who have at least one parent who was also born outside the Netherlands. Second-generation immigrants are persons who were born in the Netherlands and who have at least one parent who was born abroad.



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